#NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening)

Just a quick update to say look at the progress bars over there and reflect upon my writing goals.  Realize something, people:

I did it!  I finished my book!

NaNoFinMo2 the Quickening) was a success!  Everlasting Tunes is done!  I wrote 3,213 words tonight to put it to bed.  I finished the first draft with a final word count of 94,530!

I did it!  I finished my book!

Now don’t get all crazy and start asking me about revisions, ’cause I ain’t got nothing to say about none o’that right now. I’m just glad to have the first draft done!  I’m going to let it marinate for a while and figure out what’s next.

My immediate plans are to get some rest, then write a First Line piece by 2/1 and my Chuck Wendig story for this week by next Friday.  Beyond that I will see if I want to revise Everlasting Tunes or start some other long-form thing or what.  I have no idea yet.

For now I’m just trying to wrap my head around the thought that I finished this one.  I haven’t finished a piece even close to this length since 2010, when I produced a complete novel during NaNo that was just over 50,000 words.  I’ve never come close to 94K before.  I’m pretty proud of myself.  I did good.

Keep an eye out here to see what happens next, and please remember to support your local blogger as he keeps working on his goals through 2017.

I DID IT!  I FINISHED MY BOOK!

Chuck Wendig: Sadie

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is to give up to 2,000 words on finding Hope in the Face of Hopelessness.  This one gave me a lot of trouble.  All the ideas I came up with were all “Once more into the breach” or “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be” or something like that.  It’s hard to write this one without sounding like a cliché.  I’m not sure I did a very good job at avoiding that.  I thought about just writing a non-fiction essay on hope, but in the end I decided that was even more of a cop-out than writing a cliché so I started writing a story and came up with a story about a dog named Sadie.

It’s 1,504 words long.  Please to enjoy and feel free to comment and let me know what you think.  Thanks for stopping by.


SADIE

I couldn’t find my dog.

The storm had barreled through the night before, wind howling like a freight train, trees falling, glass breaking, the neighborhood being ripped to shreds.  I had taken shelter in my pantry.  They always said to find an interior room with no windows.  The pantry was the best I could do.  I had considered going into the bathroom, but there is a big mirror in there that scared me to death.  I could just see that thing shattering and sending shrapnel everywhere.  The worst that could happen in the pantry was a few cans of soup falling on me from the top shelf.  It might hurt, but at least I wouldn’t be bleeding.

I had brought my dog into the pantry with me, for companionship but also to keep her safe.  She hated it.  She’s never liked storms, anyway.  Even the pitter-patter of a gentle rain has her cowering under my sheets as I try to sleep.  This storm had her completely freaked, and being in the dark, confined space of the pantry didn’t help.  She was wrestling and howling from the moment I shut the door.

I didn’t want to use my phone for light.  I figured the power was going to go off eventually so I was trying to conserve the charge.  I had found an old flashlight, but of course the batteries were half-dead and it didn’t last long.  Sadie and I were eventually left in the dark.

She hated it.  She wouldn’t stay still, thrashing about in my arms, scratching at the door, trying to get out.  The rain pounding on the roof and the sound of constant thunder and the roar of the wind was making her crazy.  Strangely, her own discomfort was helping me stay focused and sane.  I couldn’t be afraid for myself because I was having to take care of her.  I wonder if that’s how it feels to be a parent?  I never had a kid but it must be something like that.

I used my phone to keep up with the time and occasionally checked the radar to see how much longer this was going last.  Because of that I know exactly what time it was when the tree came through the roof of my house and tore the kitchen apart.  The crash was audible over the din of the storm.  Shock and awe.  I didn’t know anything could be louder than that.

The whole house shook and the door of the pantry fell off.  There must have been a bang when it hit the kitchen floor but I didn’t hear it.  Rain was quickly soaking my kitchen, and it was louder than ever.  Sadie completely lost it, scrabbling to get loose, digging her claws into my thighs as I sat in what had been a dark, cozy pantry.  My hands involuntarily released her to rub at the sudden pain in my legs, and she was gone, shooting off into the darkness, up and over the fallen tree outside into the storm.

I started to jump up and run after her, but crashed into the shelf above me.  Several of those cans of soup I mentioned earlier did exactly what I was afraid they might do.  My world turned black as they all landed on my head at the same time.

When I woke up the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.  Looking at my phone I could see that several hours had passed.  I got to my feet and staggered toward the front of the house.  At some point during the night another tree had come down into my living room, and looking down the hall I could see a third in my bedroom.  Every tree in my yard must have fallen on the house.  It’s a wonder I wasn’t crushed.

Most of my furniture was destroyed, and rain had soaked everything.  I looked around and sighed.  I had insurance, but this was going to be a total loss.  I wondered where my dog was.  I called her name a few times and listened.  There was nothing.  I was pretty sure she had gone outside when she ran off but I made a careful round of inside of the house first, calling her, looking amongst the ruin of my home.  She wasn’t in the house as far as I could tell.

I went back up front to go outside, starting to worry a little.  The front door wasn’t there.  It had been crushed by the first tree that fell.  I clambered up and over that tree and went outside.  I stopped, staring.  It was as if a bomb—several bombs, really—had gone off on my street.  There wasn’t a house standing intact anywhere in sight.  Some of them had trees through them, like mine did, others had been knocked to flinders.

Tornado, I thought.  I had thought my problems were bad.  I watched the Jacksons sifting through what had once been their garage, the flattened edge of their car sticking out from under the corner of some fallen beams.  At least I still have a car.  Or did I?  I walked over and saw that, thankfully, my garage was intact, and the car inside.  That was something at least.

I called for Sadie, walking around the house, checking the yard.  She didn’t come.  I was starting to worry more now.  I could feel panic beginning to flutter its wings.  There were trees and branches down all over the place.  She wasn’t a large dog, and the woods behind the house were thick enough that if she had gotten hurt back in there I would likely never find her.

I started down the street, watching neighbors digging out, conducting a triage of sorts to figure out what had survived, what could be salvaged.  I saw other pets, dogs and cats that I knew, but no sign of Sadie.  I kept calling.  Seeing the devastation all along the street and not being able to find my dog, I soon began to plow straight into a full-blown panic attack.

Soon I was running down the street, calling her name to both sides as I ran.  I knew people were stopping what they were doing to watch me, but I was unable to stop myself.  I needed my dog.  Mr. Wesley Parsons stepped out of his driveway and caught my arm.  Frantic, I tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let me.  I kept calling.  “Sadie!  Sadie!”

He pulled me around until I was looking at him.  I kept trying to pull away, he kept redirecting me so that my eyes finally locked on his.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “We’ll find her.”

I over the edge now, crying, sobbing, snot mixing with my tears as they rolled unchecked.  I’m a classic ugly crier.  “I’ve lost my dog,” I said, barely comprehensible.  “I’ve lost everything else.  I can’t lose her too.  I need my dog!”

“I know,” Mr. Parsons said.  “She’s your normal, isn’t she?  She’s your link to the way things were yesterday.  We all need something to place our hope in.”  He looked at his wife and smiled a bit.  “I’ve got her.  I’m all right.  You need your Sadie.”

He started walking with me, still holding my arm, and the two of us called.  I had calmed some, but I was edging beyond panic into despair.  Where was my Sadie?  As we made our way further down the street others joined us.  Before long there were six or eight of us spread all over the neighborhood, calling her name.

The houses at the far end of the street had escaped Nature’s fury with just a few downed branches.  One of those houses belonged to the Barnes family, and I found Sadie there.  Mike Barnes was one of the kids who liked to play catch with her in the street when I took her for her walk.

Mike had found her when he was walking through the neighborhood that morning, huddled behind some bushes, scared and shivering in the rain.  He saw that my house was in bad shape so he took Sadie home and fed her and kept her warm and safe until I could get to her.  She heard her name and came running out to me now, barking joyfully and frolicking.  I feel to my knees in the wet grass and hugged her tight and rolled around with her in the grass.  I wasn’t the only one crying.

There were a lot of people who lost things possessions that day.  Cars, homes, pictures, books, furniture, things.  But as the rebuilding went on over the next few months, one by one they came up to me and they rubbed Sadie’s head, and they thanked us.  They all told me that seeing our joy at being reunited that day had helped them keep the most precious thing that any of us possessed.  More precious than any home or car or television set.

We helped them keep their hope.

Writing Goals Update

A couple of weeks ago I posted here about some of my writing goals for the year.  I thought I’d check in and see how the year has started.  I have added some progress bars over on the sidebar of the blog to give a sense of where I am.

My first goal for 2017 is to finish my NaNoWriMo book from 2016.  #NaNoFinMo in December was a colossal failure, so I declared January as #NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening) and set forth.  Then, of course, I didn’t touch the story at all this month until a couple of days ago, when I sat down and added a little over 1,700 words.  That puts me just over 88,000 words total.  I have set an arbitrary goal of 100,000, but there’s no real sense yet of whether that actually means anything.  I can see the end beginning to warm up (and wander a bit away from my outline.  As stories do.) but I have no idea if I have 12,000 words of story left.  Might be less.  Might be more.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose; the story will be as long as it needs to be.  I just think it would be cool to have a draft of over 100K.  I’ve never come close to that length before.  I hope to get some work in on it this weekend.

My second goal is to write more short stories this year and post them to the blog for everyone to read.  So far, I have fulfilled the first two 2017 editions of the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge.  If you haven’t read them yet, please go check them out!  The third challenge was just announced today, so that story will be a project for the weekend or early next week.  I put up two progress bars for Chuck, one that shows the total percentage of challenges I have completed this year, and the other that reveals whether I have done the most recent one or not.

I have put up two similar bars for The First Line.  The First Line is a literary journal that publishes quarterly.  The prompt each quarter is a line that serves as the first line for every story in that quarter’s issue.  I have submitted to TFL several times without being published.  I plan to submit all four prompts this year, and if the stories are not accepted I will share them here.  The stories are due 2/1, 5/1, 8/1, and 11/1.  That is why the YTD bar for TFL currently says 0/4.  It will not be at 100% until sometime in October.

My third goal is to blog more often with non-fiction posts.  Updates such as this one don’t count.  I haven’t done this yet.  There’s no progress bar for this one.  Just look for different kinds of posts and you’ll know I’m doing better.  My problem with this is as it has always been for me as a writer:  I need to get better at creating time to write and working it into my daily/nightly routine and being disciplined and motivated about doing it.  I want to write, but I don’t want my wife to feel like I am neglecting her to go sit in front of the laptop.  That’s a hard balance to figure out.  Does anyone out there have any advice?  How do you do it?

I want to write more often this year, and I am hoping these goals will motivate me to do it.  I’m not going to do these check-ins very often; that’s what the progress bars are for.  Keep coming back and see how I do.  Wish me luck, and as always, please support your local blogger.

Chuck Wendig: Social Anxiety

So.

Here we are, halfway through January, and so far #NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening) has been a total failure.  But all is not lost!  This is the second week in a row I have written a story for the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge.

This week, the name of the game is Something That Scares You.  The assignment is to take a fear and turn it into a story of 1,000 words or less.  So of course, I chose to take my social anxiety and turn it into a quasi-autobiographical character sketch.  Of course I did.  What is a blog for, especially mine, if not to place my fears and emotions on the altar of my creativity and display them for the world to gawk at?

I couldn’t come up with a clever title, so I just called it “Social Anxiety” and ran with it.  I hope you like it.  Hopefully I’ll get on with the book soon.  That’s a whole different set of anxieties I’m trying to get past, though.  Wish me luck.


SOCIAL ANXIETY

The telephone sat on my desk, still, plastic, inanimate.  Just looking at it I could feel my stress level going up.  My breathing quickened.  My heartbeat accelerated.  My face was flushed.

I stared at it.  It ignored me, involuntarily mocking me, unmindful of the emotional devastation it wrought.

It has been my greatest fear since I was a child.  I developed a stutter when I was in the fourth grade and it manifested itself most virulently when I answered the telephone.  The sound of the “h” at the beginning of a word—hair, hero, hello—defeated me every time.  My throat closed up, my breathing stopped, and I could do little more than gasp three of four times until the word came out in a rush, almost in a shout.

I finally stopped talking on the phone altogether when I was about 13.  The mental block was enormous.  It was years before I trusted myself enough to answer the phone without sounding like I was having a seizure.  Even now, more than thirty years later, I know how to control my disfluency and I do it without thinking 99% of the time.  But I still have to hesitate and consciously gather myself when I answer a telephone call to make sure I don’t stumble.

I built walls in adolescence that were too tall to see over because I was afraid to try to knock them down.  As I have gotten older it has become easier to do things that once seemed impossible and the walls have crumbled some.  They still stand high enough to impede my progress if I’m not cautious, though.  Most of the time I am careful enough that I can work around and over them but this…

This was too much.  In an attempt to force my way out of my fears I had taken a job that required me to be on the phone all day, helping people fix problems with their computers.  I knew on the first day that it had been a terrible miscalculation.  Every time the phone rang I broke into a sweat and my heartbeat filled my ears.

I answered the phone, but I hesitated and stumbled, and I knew that I was making the wrong kind of impression with the person on the other end of the line.

“{Pause} H- {stumble} hello {continue in a frantic rush to maintain momentum} and thank you for calling Outreach.  {Deep, calming breath}.  My name is Sam.  What can I help you with today?”

Once I got past the introduction I was fine.  I knew my stuff—I gave good answers—and I was confident and firm in my advice.  That first second, though, that moment when I had to answer the phone and greet the caller, that defeated me nearly every time and it made my life a living hell.  It made me afraid of the telephone again, for the first time since I was a teenager.

It was the same every time the phone rang.  Six calls an hour, they wanted us to take, eight hours a day.  That was 48 opportunities to stumble, to fall, to appear foolish, to be laughed at.  It’s no wonder my self-esteem was flatter than Wile E. Coyote on asphalt.

I needed to find another job, but I couldn’t.  I was paralyzed by the knowledge that looking for a job would lead me to having to speak on the phone with someone for an interview, or just to get information.  The very thought of having to do it drove my anxiety up to the point that I was afraid I was going to have a breakdown.

Of course, that made it even worse, and I could feel depression beginning to dig its claws into me as well.  I was well and truly stuck.  Anxiety on one side ready to rip my throat out, depression waiting to wrap its coils around me on the other.  I didn’t know how to get out.

This story is supposed to have an ending around here somewhere (hopefully a happy one), but it doesn’t.  It’s still in progress.  I’m in a different job now and the situation has changed since then, but my walls have been rebuilt just a little and are higher than they were, and my fears are still there, lurking behind them, waiting to pounce.

I know it’s only a matter of time before those fears reemerge.  I have to believe that I can be stronger than they are, and I have to be confident in my ability to combat them.  Once I truly believe that I can do it, the rest will fall into line.

For now, I soldier on, answering my phone when I have to, trying to make the best of it.  I’m taking a brick off the wall every time I do.  Eventually it will be low enough for me to see over again, then step over, then finally kick over.  Only then will I be free of my fears.  Only then will this story ever really end.

Welcome to 2017, Part the Second

Look  I’m doing it!  I blogged two days in a row!  Yay!

(You laugh, but that will look like a major accomplishment in August when I haven’t posted anything since January.)

This post not about writing, though, so I will leave that there all alone and sad and move on to the topic of tonight’s post, which is “things that I want to do in 2017 that don’t involve writing.”

I guess it’s a New Year’s Resolutions post, but it’s not, really.  I’m not resolving to do these things in 2016, I’m just putting them out there and saying I’d like to do them if I can ever get around to finding the thought of motivating myself to do them.  As I do, now and then.

This is kinda inspired by Wil Wheaton’s ongoing effort to reboot his life.  It’s my own half-assed effort to do the same.  If I actually do these things I will certainly change my life in some major ways.  I look at these as more like big-picture signposts.  Things I would like to head toward and accomplish, if not this year, then further down the road.

1.  I want to write.  I talked about that last night.  Go read what I said.  I’m not going to go over it all again when I said it all so beautifully 22 hours ago.

2.  I want to read.  I had a Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books in 2016.  I read 48 books, and listened to 31 audiobooks, for a grand total of 79 books read.  #nailedit  This year I set my goal at 60.

I have a very specific plan of what I want to read in 2017.  I am currently reading SK Dunstall’s very excellent Linesman trilogy.  After I finish that I am going to read James SA Corey’s Expanse series, currently at 6 novels (with #7 coming out later this year) and a few novellas/short stories.  I have never read the books, but I enjoyed the TV series last year and am looking forward to season 2 of that, as well.

After I finish that, I’m going to embark on a full-blown Brandon Sanderson re-read.  He is one of my favorite authors, and Elantris in particular had some very heavy influence on my own early writing efforts.  I want to re-read what I have read before and catch up on everything I haven’t.  That should manage to take me the rest of 2017, if not into 2018.  Sanderson has some doorstoppers.

There will be some Dan Wells in the mix too.  I think he has books coming out this year in two of his ongoing series.  On the audiobook front, I am currently hip-deep in a re-listen of the Wheel of Time.  Speaking of doorstoppers and Brandon Sanderson.  I see no reason that will not last until 2032 or so.

3.  Improve my physical well-being through a combination of diet, exercise, and sleep.  I do pretty well with my diet, but there are things I can improve on, like portion control.  Sometimes, I just eat too much.  I can do better.  I also have a major chicken minis addiction that probably needs to be controlled.

I also need to do better with my exercising.  I was running pretty regularly last year but just got out of the habit and, as with all things, once I stopped, I stopped.  I want to get back to running at least three days a week and maybe start doing other exercises as well.  If I thought I would go, I would join a gym, but I don’t trust myself to use it once I’ve paid for it.  I’m not making enough money to pay for a gym membership that I never use.

I’d like to be able to get more sleep.  More than a lot of other things on this list, this one is solely on me and my choices.  Since I was 15 years old, maybe longer, I have had the ability to get by on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  That’s getting harder to do as I am getting older–and that’s a difficult admission to make–but I keep trying, to my increasing detriment.  I have to get up at 4:30 am for my job these days, and I usually go to bed at 11:30 or 12:00.  It’s hard, and it’s getting harder.  I am just so used to staying up late, though.  To get even six hours of sleep I’d have to get in bed by 10:00 to drift off by 10:30.  That seems impossible.  I’ve never gone to bed that early.  This one is going to take a lot of legit work and may not even be in the cards for this year.

My ultimate physical goals are to run a 5K in under 30 minutes, a 10K in less than an hour, and lose 40 pounds–and maintain that loss.  I’m not sure those things will come this year, but i can make a start towards them.  My long-term-secret-secret goal is to get in good enough shape to run a Spartan Race.  And my back says, yeah, right.

4.  Improve my psychological/emotional well-being.  I’ve been saying for years that I could benefit from counseling or therapy but I never make the effort to find a provider and go.  I have some deep-seated insecurities and self-esteem/self-confidence issues that go back to high school and even earlier.  My emotions atrophied when I was a teen and my emotional development was extremely stunted for a variety of reasons.  In some ways I have never recovered from the things that I put myself through back then.  It still affects my life on an almost daily basis.  I’ve never been diagnosed (easy to say, since I’ve never gone for evaluation), but I’m sure I have some depressive issues, probably some anxiety, and some aggressive social phobias as well.  I need to talk to someone and get myself straightened out.  No idea if medication is needed, but it would probably help to find out.  Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally get around to doing it.

5.  Do other stuff.  I have an old ukulele of my brother’s that’s been leaning against my desk for two years.  I want to learn how to play it.  I want to play more games with my wife and kids.  I want to spend less time on the internet (unless I’m writing in my blog!).  I want to have a fantasy football team that doesn’t suck when it gets to the playoffs and that has running backs that stay healthy.

6.  Rebuild my interpersonal networks.  I have good friends I haven’t seen in years, some of whom have kids I have never met.  I want to reconnect with my brother and his family.  I want to spend time with my dad when he comes back to town.  I want to be in the lives of the people I love again.  I want to be a better friend, a better brother, a better son, a better husband, a better dad, a better person.

You know, all the easy stuff.


It’s not going to be easy.  That’s a lot to throw out there and hope for.  I’m pretty sure it can’t all be done in one year.  I can plant a seed for 2018, though.  And 2019 as well.  And 2020, and beyond.  Some of those things will never stop needing to happen, so I can draw them onto my soul with permanent ink.  Hopefully it really will be permanent and they won’t fade away.

Some of this I just want to happen.  Some if it, I need to happen.  I’ll check back in from time to time and see what kind of progress I’m making.  Wish me luck.  It’s not going to be easy.  Happy New Year.